Lessons of the Non-Tech Acquiring Tech Deal Of The Month

February 2023: Pulmuone agrees to invest in Simple Planet

On 13th February 2023, Pulmuone, one of the largest tofu companies in the world (revenue of $2.2 billion), agreed to make a strategic investment in a cell-based meat company, Simple Planet.


Tech – Simple Planet: Operator of a cultured meat development company intended to produce cell-derived food. The company develops livestock-oriented cell-cultured meat materials and provides food based on cell culture platform technology and stem cell engineering technology.

Non-Tech – Pulmuone:
Pulmuone is a leading Korean company that provides fresh wholesome foods, tofu in particular, and beverages, operating a sustainable food business in a wide range of fields including health functional food, school meal service, concession facilities, eco-friendly food distribution, spring drinking water, and fermented dairy products. Starting from its establishment in the US in 1991, as well as in Korea, Pulmuone advanced to other overseas markets, including China in 2010, Japan in 2014, and Vietnam in 2019. The company is consolidating its status as the largest tofu company in the world and growing as a global company.

Note – to see all the other “Techquisition” deals that were announced globally in February 2023, you can access them here.


On 13th February 2023, Pulmuone entered into a definitive agreement to make a strategic investment of an undisclosed amount in Simple Planet.

The shareholder value creation for Pulmuone comes in the form of the strategic partnership it has agreed with Simple Planet (see the section below).

Like most other techquisition deals, the market reacted favourably to the investment announcement given the positive outlook associated with the strategic potential of the investment and how it fits with Pulmuone’s digital solutions business strategy.

Even in these difficult market conditions, Pulmuone’s share price increased by approximately 0.5% from February 12 to February 24 – versus a decrease of 1.9% in the KOSPI Index – due in large part to the strategic partnership that is aligned with the financial investment.

This signals a potentially high ROI for Pulmuone on the techquisition, assuming it can execute on the plan.


Founded in 2021, Simple Planet develops cell-derived future food based on cell culture platform technology and stem cell engineering technology to solve the food problem.

The company’s cell culture platform consisting of multilayer nano-thin film and gelatin microparticle technology increases cell proliferation and reduces the price of the culture media by nutrient release and delivery control.

It also develops cell culture media, recombinant growth factors and other reagents for use in cultivated meat production.

In June 2022, Simple Planet announced a breakthrough by developing cultivated meat with a higher content of unsaturated fatty acids than is possible with conventional meat showing promise for both cell and plant-based meat markets and is expected to propel Korea to the forefront of the alt-protein sector.

“Simple Planet has secured muscle cells through diversification from adipose stem cells and has secured differentiation from competitors through research on fat cell differentiation”

- Company executive

Through the partnership with Simple Planet, the two companies will co-develop and commercialise hybrid cultivated meat products, which are a mixture of conventional vegetable-based alternative meat ingredients and lab-grown meat ingredients.

Unlike existing plant-based meats that focused mainly on western dishes and hamburger patties, Pulmuone is focused on will developing Korean-styled dishes aimed at establishing unique competitiveness.

Pulmuone aims to lead the future food market by putting the world's best tofu production and plant-based protein R&D technology and potential as its driving force.

Pulmuone will further make investments to accelerate the commercialisation process and acquire new technologies for its meat alternatives.

Source: Pulmuone Integrated Report 2021

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the market preference for plant-based foods that focus on health and the planet has grown rapidly. In line with this trend, Pulmuone announced the “Plant-forward Food Strategy” in March 2021, using plant-based protein and plant-based meat alternatives as future growth engines.

Pulmuone has evolved from “wholesome foods for the health and happiness of our families” to “sustainable foods that are good for our bodies and the Earth”.

The main categories are divided into “plant-forward foods” to reduce the use of animal-derived ingredients while using plant-based ingredients, and “animal welfare foods,” which emphasize animal-derived ingredients with sustainable properties.

Source: Pulmuone Integrated Report 2021

Pulmuone entered the alternative meat category in March 2021, launching 20 new products in its domestic Korean market, as well as in China, Japan, and the United States, as part of a drive to secure future growth engines and leverage the meat-free trend among younger generations.

Further, to expand its plant-forward meat alternative business, Pulmuone opened "WaBa Grill," a well-being restaurant chain in the United States, across all of its 200 locations, offering meat alternative dishes.

In December 2022, the company partnered with Danisco Nutrition & Biosciences Korea Ltd., the South Korean branch of International Flavours & Fragrances (IFF) seeking to upgrade Pulmuone’s Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) processing capabilities and create alternative meat products that offer flavour and texture similar to real meat.

Earlier in July 2020, Pulmuone also announced a partnership with BlueNalu, a cell-based seafood company to bring alternative seafood into South Korea to tackle the increasing demand for seafood, particularly in Asia.

The partnership aimed to accelerate BlueNalu’s commercialisation in South Korea with a product that meets consumer expectations in terms of taste, texture and nutrition, while also providing benefits for the planet and the well-being of families.

The investment in Simple Planet serves as a first step to develop and commercialise hybrid cultivated meat which can be incorporated into Pulmuone’s suite of alternative meat products.

Through the partnership with Simple Planet, the two companies will co-develop and commercialise hybrid cultivated meat products, which are a mixture of conventional vegetable-based alternative meat ingredients and lab-grown meat ingredients.

The deal rationale revolves around Pulmuone’s plan to leverage Simple Planet’s strong technological capabilities in the cultivated meat alternatives segment which will add significant value to this partnership by contributing to its sustainable food system of plant-forward and animal welfare foods.

“Concern for the environment also grew after the pandemic, and demand for plant-based products soared even higher as they produce less carbon dioxide throughout the production process”.

- Cho Kil-su, Head of Pulmuone USA


One of the reasons Pulmuone, and many of its peers, are so interested in the alternative meat market is the growth expected – the alternative meat market is estimated to grow from ca $10 billion in 2021 to $234 billion by 2030 (CAGR of 42%).

The increased demand for these products is largely due to rising awareness of the various issues associated with producing and consuming conventional meat products.

This includes animal welfare concerns relating to the treatment and killing of livestock, links between the consumption of red meats and the risk of chronic diseases, and the contributions of livestock agriculture to climate change.

There is also concern surrounding how the agricultural industry will supply enough food for the future human population without increasing agricultural land use, especially as many attempts to increase meat and crop yields have created further problems, such as antibiotic resistance and soil erosion. As such, many consumers are now looking to make more sustainable food choices.

Globally, consumers are seeking products with clean labels and recognizable ingredients while manufacturers are opting for ingredients that offer high performance and applications, with simple ingredients sourced from low-processed food.

According to the Korea Vegetarian Union (KVU), in 2020, there were ca 500,000 strict vegans in the country, representing a 2x increase within a decade, and 1.5 million people who pursue similar vegetarian or plant-based diets.

Further, KVU estimated that the number of flexitarians was ca 10 million, or about 20% of South Korea’s total population.

As a result, South Korea has been identified as a country to watch for alternative protein developments. Alongside continued plant-based innovation, numerous advances in cultivated meat and seafood have happened over the past twelve months.

Additionally, consumer awareness of plant-based meat substitutes is rapidly growing, with more people demanding these because of their stated health benefits, such as the prevention of non-communicable disorders, digestive issues, and obesity which is one of the major factors driving global demand for plant-sourced products.

Consequently, significant investments in new product innovation and regulatory approvals across the globe are expected to continue to offer a profitable opportunity for the expansion of the market for meat substitutes.


Meat alternatives such as plant-based substitutes and cultured meat provide several benefits compared to traditionally farmed meat.

Over the last decade, there has been a substantial increase in consumer demand for alternatives to farmed meat as more people transition to vegan or vegetarian diets and others opt to reduce their meat consumption.

Increasing consumption of plant-based substitutes and cultured meat would also reduce the land required for animal agriculture, creating more space for land uses that benefit the environment, such as rewilding. Other environmental benefits of plant-based substitutes include the reduced greenhouse gas footprint of these products compared to farmed meat.

Given the current lack of regulatory approval for cultivated meat products, both companies aim to commercialise hybrid meat that offers real meat-like texture and taste by 2025.

The techquisition investment in Simple Planet completely aligns with Pulmuone’s commitment to minimise environmental impacts and realise sustainable transportation for the future.

The deal could enable Pulmuone to accelerate the commercialisation process of cultivated meat and expand its sustainable offerings.


“Unlike existing plant-based meats that focused mainly on western dishes and hamburger patties, we will develop Korean-styled dishes aimed at establishing unrivalled competitiveness.”

- Pulmuone spokesperson

Pulmuone’s techquisition investment is a good example of how a traditional business belonging to the food industry is actively engaged in the journey of transforming itself to deliver greater value to its stakeholders – particularly its shareholders and customers – by properly positioning itself for the future, ready to tackle any disruptions.

The essence of such a transformation unfolding is embedded in a strategy execution approach we have trademarked and call Techquisition, which my firm, Aquaa Partners, has designed and delivers to its clients every day as an experienced and trusted expert partner.

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